Michael Battalio


Friday, August 26, 2011

Serious conversations (part 27):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth entries are a collection of comments on my views of academia.

My friend had commented that she had a difficult time relating and communicating with professors. I replied:
        I see, understand, and respect the title and hierarchy (undergrad, masters, Ph.D. candidate, post-doc, professor) of academia, but I don't feel like I can only talk with people one level above me.  I find all the levels accessible.  In general, most professors I’ve found have been very friendly and approachable. Most of the professors are only 20 or so years older than I am, so they aren't intimidating (and actually I’m on a first name basis with several of them).
        Interacting with professors is very important.  They teach not just what you can learn in their classes, but so much more about what it is they do, how to do research, how to write.  The more I interact with them the more I think I'd like to become a professor.  The biggest thing I don't understand is finding and getting grant money and where it comes from etc.  I'm good at finding scholarship, assistantship money, but that seems much different.
        I do hold the title of professor in pretty high esteem though. The last year or so since I've been looking at grad schools, I've been going through lists of professors at universities and seeing their resumes and what they are working on, I do feel very intimidated and a bit nervous to contact them.  I think there is a perceived wall of academic separation because you don't know the professors well enough.
        I also believe that being able to meet a professor outside of academia would be different than going to them after class or during office hours. I think you’ve [my friend] just had bad luck with professors. The professors I know go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and not be too intimidating. Why be intimidating at all? Intimidation prevents the spread of ideas, which is the point of academia.

A comment on asking stupid questions:
        I know this is cliché, but often when you don't understand something, most other people don't understand it either, so I got over the problem of asking questions a while ago.  I'm probably one of the annoying people that asks too many questions, but that doesn't bother me.  If I'm known as the annoying questioner, so what.  I let my grades speak for how well I understand, not how many "stupid" questions I ask.  Although sometimes when I am taking a class from new professor, I do feel nervous about asking something, but once there have been a few grades in the class, and I know the professor knows that I'm attentive, I become much more comfortable asking.

Friday, August 05, 2011

A letter to my congressman

Sorry, but this is going to be one more post of a political nature before we resume the “serious conversations”. Instead of being continually frustrated with the Congress over the budget impasse, last weekend I decided to write my representative. He is Gregg Harper, a republican from the third district of MS, and one of the sponsors of the Cut, Cap, Balance bill the republicans originally pushed. I wrote:

“I realize most of our district is quite conservative, but I implore you to take a more moderate stance regarding the debt ceiling situation. Regardless of if you believe Cut, Cap, and Balance is the solution, it will not be able to pass. You need to compromise with Democrats, and I hope you do not consider compromise a dirty word the way many of your fellow Republicans do. It will only take a couple of house Republicans to stand up for the good of the country and say enough is enough with political posturing and break with the party line.

I am not saying that you should be the one to compromise simply because I lean more liberal than conservative. I would encourage the same if I were represented by a Democrat. I am saying this because most of the country wants and needs you to compromise, otherwise we quite possibly will be dooming ourselves to another recession. Would it not be an inspiration to the state of MS if you were one of the ones that spoke out for it - that thought of the need of the country before your party's own political aspirations.

We independents are tired of the partisan squabbling. I beseech you to work with the other side before it too late, or if you are unwilling to break on your own, encourage Reps. Boehner and Cantor to compromise on your party's behalf. Don't let a few outspoken individuals on the extremes of the political spectrum dictate the country's future. Work cooperatively, and do it soon.”

He (or one of his staffers) replied:
“Thank you for contacting my office regarding the federal debt limit.
 
Despite the president’s rhetoric, House Republicans are the only lawmakers in Washington who have moved not one, but two bills that offer a balanced approach. From calls and emails to my office, it is clear that the great majority of folks in Mississippi and our district understand defaulting on America’s financial obligations is not a realistic option for our economy.
 
I have supported two plans to prevent a national default, establish hard caps on future spending and ensure spending cuts that exceed a federal debt limit increase.
 
The “Budget Control Act of 2011,” which Congress passed on August 1, 2011, would cut and cap spending by $917 billion over 10 years, exceeding the $900 billion debt limit increase contained in the act. It also creates mechanisms for an additional debt limit increase with additional budget savings of $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years and requires both houses of Congress to vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment this year.
 
This action came after the Senate failed to proceed on the House-passed “Cut, Cap, and Balance Act of 2011.” This bill remains stalled in the Senate along with the House-passed fiscal year 2012 budget resolution that reduces federal spending by $5.8 trillion over the next decade relative to the current-policy baseline and proposes entitlement reforms, which is a historical step for Congress.
 
The House of Representatives did its job this year, passing a budget and two plans to avoid a national default while waiting for the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House to get around to addressing the nation’s debt crisis.
 
With nearly one in ten Mississippians out of work, Washington continues to borrow at unsustainable levels, which is why Congress must act to drive down spending and shrink the size of the federal government. The “Budget Control Act of 2011” is a down payment on that effort.
 
I appreciate you sharing your views with me. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can ever be of assistance.”

That seems like a pretty canned response. Blah, blah, blah, this is what I did and sponsored even though I knew it wasn’t passible (ignoring that I directly asked him to compromise), but I tried anyway instead of compromising ...it’s their fault, not mine, etc. I wrote back:

“I appreciate your actions and work in resolving the budget impasse.  I will take issue with only one item.  You have said, "The House of Representatives did its job this year, passing a budget and two plans to avoid a national default while waiting for the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House to get around to addressing the nation’s debt crisis."  Let us not pretend that those bills the House passed were nothing but political maneuvers designed simply so that house republicans could respond to calls of inaction from constituents.  Certainly it was recognized that those bills would be non-workable to your partners in the senate or the white house, yet they were written and debated anyway, wasting time that could have been used working on an actual compromise.  Please, do not act as though the House of Representative's stubbornness did not contribute at all to the crisis.  The potential disaster was cause as much by Republican's stubbornness as Democrat's stubbornness.  I assure you the American people recognize that there is enough blame to go around for everyone.  Do not point fingers.  We are intelligent enough to assign blame on our own.  Again though, I thank you for your work in reaching the comprise that was passed.”

Shockingly, I didn’t hear back on this message. I hope they are understanding that we are tired of their power-hungry megalomania. Even though my representative almost assuredly doesn’t care what I think because I’m not a republican, everyone still needs to write your congressmen whenever they are doing something egregiously wrong and tell them what you think or vote them out. Realistically it probably won’t accomplish much, but at least then you earn the right to complain.

Edit (8/8/11): I just heard back from Rep. Harper. I reads as follows:

"Thank you for contacting my office regarding the federal debt limit.

Despite the president’s rhetoric, House Republicans are the only lawmakers in Washington who have moved not one, but two bills that offer a balanced approach. From calls and emails to my office, it is clear that the great majority of folks in Mississippi and our district understand defaulting on America’s financial obligations is not a realistic option for our economy.

I have supported two plans to prevent a national default, establish hard caps on future spending and ensure spending cuts that exceed a federal debt limit increase.

The “Budget Control Act of 2011,” which Congress passed on August 1, 2011, would cut and cap spending by $917 billion over 10 years, exceeding the $900 billion debt limit increase contained in the act. It also creates mechanisms for an additional debt limit increase with additional budget savings of $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years and requires both houses of Congress to vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment this year.

This action came after the Senate failed to proceed on the House-passed “Cut, Cap, and Balance Act of 2011.” This bill remains stalled in the Senate along with the House-passed fiscal year 2012 budget resolution that reduces federal spending by $5.8 trillion over the next decade relative to the current-policy baseline and proposes entitlement reforms, which is a historical step for Congress.

The House of Representatives did its job this year, passing a budget and two plans to avoid a national default while waiting for the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House to get around to addressing the nation’s debt crisis.

With nearly one in ten Mississippians out of work, Washington continues to borrow at unsustainable levels, which is why Congress must act to drive down spending and shrink the size of the federal government. The “Budget Control Act of 2011” is a down payment on that effort.

I appreciate you sharing your views with me. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can ever be of assistance."

Sound familiar? It should; it is the same automated message that I got the first time. So, even though you can contact your congressman, you only probably get a staffer who decides which pre authored message you get replied with.

I'm going to try one last time. He is my latest e-mail:
"Just checking to see if a real person is behind this
In a previous e-mail, I took issue with a statement you sent me by e-mail regarding the budget crisis. This account replied with the exact same message as before. That somewhat aggravates me. Either there is just a robotic message that you send in reply to everything or there is a staffer behind this with a very poor sense of humor. Either way it is a waste to even bother with this form. If I cannot get in touch with my congressman and get a serious response, I'll just vote him out of office.

Again I say, don't pretend that the House had nothing to do with the impasse that occurred. It insults the intelligence of your constituents."

With today's 5.5% drop in the market again today (mainly because of the political stupidity of the Congress), I am instituting a new political strategy. If there is an incumbent, regardless of whether he was a republican or democrat, I am voting against him. I believe all of us moderates and independents are tired of being ignored. Gregg Harper, I am voting against you. I don't care if my only other option is a monkey. It can't be any worse than the congress we have right now.
 
2003-2016 Michael Battalio (michael[at]battalio.com)