Michael Battalio

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The 12th Annual Christmas Mass Email

Greetings and Salutations, 
        Welcome to the Twelfth Annual Christmas Mass Email.  I hope this finds each and every one of you well.

        I’ve been seeing a lot lately of the inherent discord in our society  — in politics, economics, religion, and so on.  Antagonism seems to pervade my daily interactions with people.  Perhaps I notice it because we are in an age of social media, and the opinions of everyone are so easily viewable.  (I hope that is the answer all on its own; admittedly, I haven’t been alive long enough to see if this is some sort of trend.)  Although, it certainly seems like we are becoming angrier and angrier at one another.  I’m partially to blame as well.
        I am baffled at how contentious we have become, because we are more alike than we are different.  Despite what the mass media might have you believe, our society is not us versus them.  Instead, it is us versus the universe and our own limitations.  We are so isolated in our tiny corner of space that we fail to see the things that unite us.  This week is the 50th anniversary of the famous Apollo 8 “Earthrise” photo (Google it; you’ll recognize it as soon as you see it.).  We are truly are alone against the empty void of the universe, yet we spend so much of our time disagreeing with one another instead of working together as a society towards all that it is we can achieve.  
        We will never transcend those limitations of our tiny speck in space if we can’t cooperate.  The petty squabbling about trivial things serves no one but our own egos.  I am not advocating for giving up on one’s ideals, but I am promoting tolerance and education for all points of view.  We certainly shouldn’t embrace all opposing viewpoints, but we should understand why others do.  We are all one people — neither race, nor creed, nor country separates us, for our small home unites us.  Let’s take a moment to just get along for once.  I think that’s one resolution we could all stand to adopt.

        Consider this part two:  It’s recently occurred to me how life is the accumulation of many happenstances, and if just one doesn’t occur or we miss it, we are a completely different person.  A chance invitation could introduce you to your soul mate, or a response to an email could lead to a new career.  Leaving five minutes late for work might mean you miss being in a traffic accident, or reading a new book could kindle a lifelong hobby.  Every single action you take, no matter how small, shapes your entire future.
        That isn’t a surprise is it?  After all we are who we are because of our experiences.  We can never meet the person we might have been, so we certainly can’t miss that person.  It also is not feasible to know if that fictional person has an improved existence.  A different choice could lead in such a wild direction that no amount of prescience could afford you clarity.  In essence, regrets are useless two-fold.  One, you can’t change anything anyway, and two, you can’t know whether the outcome of that hypothetical change would have made your reality any better.  
        Accept those happenstances and coincidences, for they are the flavor of life.  They make you, you.  But at the same time realize that each choice is important.  Deliberate over what you can control and embrace what you cannot.

        And there you go.  I plug along in school; I’m doing pretty okay.  Once again, congratulations to all of you who have really done something amazing this year, whether it’s finishing a degree, getting married, starting a family, finding a new passion in life or any other accomplishment.  But never be satisfied; always strive for more.  Always question, learn, grow; otherwise, what’s the point?
        Enjoy the season, appreciate the little things, and give yourself some credit for making it as far as you have.  Reply to let me know how you’re doing and what you’ve accomplished; wanting to hear from you is half the reason I send this every year.

My requisite joke:

When Beethoven passed away, he was buried in a churchyard. A couple days later, the town drunk was walking through the cemetery and heard some strange noises coming from the area where Beethoven was buried. Terrified, the drunk ran and retrieved the priest to come and listen. The priest bent close to the grave and heard some faint, unrecognizable music coming from the grave. Frightened, the priest ran and brought the town magistrate.

When the magistrate arrived, he tuned his ear to the grave, listened for a moment, and said, “Ah, yes, that’s Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, being played backwards.”

He listened a while longer, and said, “There’s the Eighth Symphony, and it’s backwards, too. Most puzzling.” So the magistrate kept listening; “There’s the Seventh... the Sixth... the Fifth...”

Suddenly the realization of what was happening dawned on the magistrate; he stood up and announced to the crowd that had gathered in the cemetery, “My fellow citizens, there’s nothing to worry about. It’s just Beethoven decomposing.”

Best wishes, happy holidays,

Friday, November 29, 2013

Serious conversations (part 53):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The fifty-third and fifty-fourth entries begin a discussion on wealth.

        This set of discussions start what will hopefully be a lengthy conversation on wealth, including its generation, destruction, and use. These first two entries consist of a broad overview of what we think. Later we will begin a survey of “The Origin of Wealth” by Eric D. Beinhocker.

Where does monetary wealth come from?  If it's true that the only way to make money (or break even) is to export goods or services to the outside, how can that be sustained in a closed system?  If your city is making a profit, does that mean that somewhere, some other city is losing money?

Are natural resources necessarily the ultimate origin of all wealth?  Even if your city is a service economy and you export services to other cities, the people who provide those services have to be fed and clothed, so you have to import goods to take care of that.  You're just farther up the economic food chain.  Somewhere down at the bottom is a farmer and a miner.

So maybe we should take a step back and define wealth first of all.  For that I go back to Adam Smith and "The Wealth of Nations" where wealth is the produce of the people and land, and produce is something that satisfies a human need where I would refer us to the classical Maslow hierarchy of needs to define human need.  Now having said that I think it's clear that in a closed system wealth can be generated because the Earth is a closed system at the moment.  The continued growth of planetary wealth is a result of the further exploitation of the natural resources of the Earth.  We are creating wealth by taking it from the ground and using human labor to facilitate the taking.  So at its most basic, the generation of wealth requires two things: time and effort.  We extract material from the earth and then with effort create some good that has some monetary value.  Wealth is thus not just created from nothing or taken from someone else; it is generated through work.  

        I, then, disagree that wealth only comes from export.  Consider those very isolated tribes of people that live apart from the globalized economy (wikipedia has an article on them "Uncontacted peoples").  It seems a group is discovered every so often. When they have first contact with the globalized economy they have wealth, not very much, but they have it in their clothing, tools and domiciles.  That wealth was generated independently.  It can certainly be the case that cities can exploit other cities to generate additional wealth, but I don't think it is a necessary condition that wealth can only be generated though the taking from others.  

Friday, November 08, 2013

This I Believe (part 23):

        After about four years it is time for a revisit of my “This I Believe” series. As before, I’m still having trouble defining exactly what it is I prescribe to as a worldview. I hope to figure some of what I believe here.

Before in the series I explain my current beliefs and said that I really want God to exist. Let me elaborate on that.

        I want God because of two reasons.  First, praying to God allows you control things you couldn't otherwise control.  I can't tell you how tempting it is to pray to God when Rebecca is having a flair up of her Crohn's disease because otherwise all I can do is sit and watch her be in pain.  If only I could pray hard enough I could perhaps convince what should be a merciful God in the first place to heal her.  Prayer gives the illusion of absolute control.  People love that; I would love that if it were actually true.  

        Secondly, I’d like to not not exist. I am not necessarily afraid of ceasing to exist, I just don't want to.  I'd like to at least exist for longer than the 100 years or so I'd have otherwise.  If we get to the singularity in our lifetimes this won't be my problem anymore, and to some extent the singularity will mitigate my need for absolute power as well.  If I can live in a computer or have a perfect android body, I won't need a celestial magician to grant me wishes.  That's really it, I don't find comfort in thinking there is some being greater than me.  To paraphrase Douglas Adams, the universe is amazing enough that I don't need omnipotent beings in it too.

        I have always been afraid of death.  I can remember crying myself to sleep occasionally when I was five or six being worried about dying.  I have been preoccupied with this for the entirety of my memory.  Thinking about death while sitting in my grandmother's lap is one of my first memories.  I don't fear pain or loss, but it terrifies me not to exist.  I guess so much of it has to do with me really liking existing.  Although it also has to do with me concerned about leaving a legacy.  It is quite doubtful that I will leave a large enough mark in scientific literature to be remembered much past the decade after I die.  Very few scientists ever do really leave a profound jump forward in knowledge.

        One might speculate that it is my indoctrinated Catholicism that has caused me such fear. I suppose some of my fear comes from religion.  Catholicism is awfully concerned about guilt, reconciliation and repentance, but even as a child I was more worried not about salvation but about not existing.  I can't explain it any better than this.  I don't have a concrete reason for being so afraid; perhaps it is why I'm so cautious (sometimes to my own detriment) in my decisions.  Actually, I wonder how so many people can not be afraid of death.

Friday, October 18, 2013

This I Believe (part 22):

        After about four years it is time for a revisit of my “This I Believe” series. As before, I’m still having trouble defining exactly what it is I prescribe to as a worldview. I hope to figure some of what I believe here. Now a revisit on        

Previously in this series I began with a revisit on where I am in my beliefs, and I explain that I feel more and more disdain towards believers. I understand that many might be offended by that. Let me explain why I feel that way. It certainly isn’t because I intellectually look down on believers.

        The problem with disdaining people for something that ultimately makes them happy, which faith does for a lot of people, revolves around if they infringe on others.  That is, unfortunately, one of the fundamental tenants of most religions:  proselytization.  They believe it to be their job to make everyone just like them, and if others aren't like them then they are inferior, as in damned.  If evangelical Christians would just mind their own business instead of trying to coerce the government into enforcing their arcane beliefs I would have no problem with whatever they did to increase their happiness or general psychological wellbeing.  Unfortunately they believe their morals are the only good morals.  Therefore everyone else must be immoral compared to them, so they wield the law to enforce their ethics on others for the good of others.  To get back to the original point, I don't look down on people for believing in something bigger than they are; I look down on people who force their beliefs on others.  To continue, there are certain things that are true and some that aren't.  Proven science is true; no amount of appealing to religion will change that.  Denying proven science because of religion is absolutely deluded and disdainful because the consequences of proliferating scientific ignorance absolutely infringe on society and thusly on me personally.  To clarify, I'm not trying to invent a religion around the "truth" or science, I'm just saying that willful ignorance is disdainful.  If you can't be happy at least acknowledging the truth of existence, why bother living?  If you believe something which conflicts with observable knowledge how can you still you still believe? That’s willful ignorance; that’s disdainful. I cannot respect that. I cannot come to terms with that.  Clearly though, some people can.

Friday, September 27, 2013

This I Believe (part 21):

        After about four years it is time for a revisit of my “This I Believe” series. As before, I’m still having trouble defining exactly what it is I prescribe to as a worldview. I hope to figure some of what I believe here. Now a revisit on what I’m believing.

        It is very hard to shed ideas on the universe that have been indoctrinated in you since you were a baby as you've been taught by every adult you respect that the universe was created by this mythical entity with whom we each have a special connection that is also only one way.  I will provide an anecdote.  When I was in seventh or eighth grade I went to a band camp at LSU.  I befriend someone who was unabashedly atheist.  I was shocked; I couldn't comprehend how someone could deny the existence of God so vehemently.  I remember staying up nights thinking how could he continue sanely living knowing that he would just flash out of existence when he died.  He told me that merely being remembered by those around him was enough.  I was floored.  How could someone be an atheist?  I am still stunned that a 14 year old was so far along in his intellectual development.  I guess that's how it goes when you aren't indoctrinated into a religion from birth.  How interesting would society be if we weren’t all indoctrinated from birth? What if we could choose what we believed instead of having belief presented to you by the people who care for you and love you? If that isn’t Pavlovian in nature, I don’t know what is.

        Presently I think I'm making the same gradual journey from agnosticism to atheism that I made from Catholicism to agnosticism.  With every passing day I realize more and more that God doesn't exist.  I really want him to; again, I don't want to cease to exist at some point, but I just don't think he does.  I also am beginning to look with more and more disdain at people who do believe in some sort of religion.  (Some might take issue with my disdain. I’ll explore that in the next entry.) I wouldn't say that I think they are stupid, but I do think they are either misguided or deluded.  I have stopped going to Mass, but I do miss the interaction with people.  As we've talked about many times churches are one of the primary methods of meeting people.  It would be nice to have that here in TX.  I read an article a few days ago about an atheist "church" where they have a service that is explicitly for meeting like minded people.  That’s what draws most people to religion in adulthood I think – the community. So what if we could have community without all the religious baggage?

Friday, September 06, 2013

My politics (part 2): Does Government Do Good with Our Money?

        Let’s stop to consider what the government actually provides for us. It gives us infrastructure, the roads, bridges, tunnels we use everyday. It gives us defense of our borders and civil security through the police, firefighters, and other emergency personnel. It gives us new technologies through NASA, NIH, CDC, NSF, NOAA, etc. The list goes on. We needs these services for society to function in a way that allows all of us to prosper. So yes, the government does good. The problem with government is that it does more than what we all can agree on as "good". The balancing factor is that I pay taxes for programs I don't support but you might like, and you pay taxes for programs I do support but you might not. The point being that we can't all get what we want. Your money is inevitably paying for something you don't want it to pay for. That is the price you must pay to have your taxes pay for the things you do want them to pay for. Think of it as a tax on your tax. So the question becomes how much tax are you willing to pay to get what you want knowing that some of the money taken from you goes to what you don't want.

        People are selfish, including me. You see that everywhere. The rich want lower taxes, not because they are afraid they’ll become poor due to the drain on their wealth, but because they are selfish. They “worked” hard for their money, and they should keep it. Where “worked” means “were lucky” in some way. (This is a topic for another post, but everyone is lucky in some way.) Comparatively they get very little of what they want from their tax money because they don't use many of the services the government provides to the rest of us. The poor want more social services so that they don’t live in poverty. Conservatives would call that selfish because they should pull themselves up and simply work harder. The poor get a lot of services off their tax burden. And then there are people like me in the middle. We want both; we want lower taxes and more governmental services. What’s a government to do?

        The question becomes how do we balance what the rich want from government with what the poor need from government, keeping in mind that the rich are rich because the rest of us have enough income to buy whatever product or service they sell. I'm not an economist, so I can't comment on what the exact rate of progressive income tax should be. However, when discussing taxes, the rich (and conservatives) should keep in mind that the programs that help the poor survive are a kind of ongoing economic stimulus. The poor are not saving this money; they spend welfare and food stamps immediately. That money goes directly into the economy. I'll go into the spending and collection of taxes in more detail later in a future post.

Friday, August 16, 2013

My Politics (part 1):

        It’s time to start a new semi-regular series on this blog. From the title the topics should be obvious. I’m going wade into the discussion not just with mindless prattle but with evidence to support my assertions. I’m going to warn you upfront that while I’m an independent moderate I lean pretty far left on some topics, while making unexpected forays towards the right. I welcome debate from all sides, but recognize that ad hominem attacks will get you promptly blocked. Other types of fallacious arguments will get you brutally ridiculed.

        This first post is simply self identification. I hate the two political parties (I am serious. I absolutely loathe them. They are a drain on our society and completely worthless. More on that in a future post.) in the country at the moment, so I will not entertain thoughts on what party I am. I think the greatest political insult you can level at someone is to call them a Democrat or Republican. Don’t get me wrong, do I agree with the Democrats on some things? Yes. Do I agree with the Republicans? Yes. But that doesn’t make me a democrat or a republican.

         So, how do I define myself? I could go into conservatism vs. liberalism, but again both sides have done such a good job vilifying each other so that simply implying you lean one direction or the other alienates you against a whole subset of the populace. So that’s a nonstarter; the best way I can think of to define myself is to describe each issue as I see it. The problem there is that conservatives and liberals have neat, pre-boxed definitions on every single issue, so regardless of what I describe someone will eventually label me one way or the other. Being labeled cannot be avoided, and if you try to defend yourself, the labeler feels justified in their labeling.

        So again, how do I define myself? I am an independent. There is no correct (as in perfect) answer to any political issue, but there is always a best answer. That best answer is never exactly what the Democrats or the Republicans or the conservatives or the liberals say it is. All sides must be weighed and judged based on merit, not on what some idiotic political pundit or politician tells you. And you certainly shouldn’t believe something just because I think it’s a good idea, because you too are an independent. Even the most devout Texas conservative or Yankee liberal is an independent. I know that because we are all different. Our political views are shaped by years of experience, experience that is as unique as every personality. No one fits inside a nice little box; we are all independents. So join me as I describe just how independent I am.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Serious conversations (part 52):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The fifty-first and fifty-second entries deal with overpopulation.

        Previously I commented that as far as overpopulations is concerned, we are doomed either by our own greed, self destruction, or by mother nature.

        Certainly though, not everyone is a pessimistic as I, otherwise economies would have already collapsed.  I suppose people are relying on future human ingenuity to take care of the problems we are creating.  For example, I know there are several projects ongoing on how to cool the planet a few degrees under the assumption that we will limit the greenhouse gasses and there will only be a few degrees of warming.  They might work, but I wouldn't count on them.  As far as overpopulation, I just don't see how we get around it without swift governmental action.  We cannot continue reproducing at the rate we currently are. Our government is too busy solving problems of its own creation (i.e. the debt crisis) than to deal with the hard questions that must be answered for human longevity.  On the other hand, maybe we'll figure out fusion. With basically unlimited energy, many problems will be much easier to fix.  I think the development of a new, clean, and abundant energy source is the lynchpin in whether we survive.  

        Don't get me wrong, I don't think we are anywhere near getting fusion.  I am simply noting that it would be nice to have it.  It seems as if we have been 20 years from cheap fusion for decades.  But if we do get there the only environmental problems that can't be fixed are urban sprawl and destruction of habitat. Though piping desalinated water from say the Gulf of Mexico into the Great Plains, for example, will be a monstrous undertaking.  Again, if we can fix overpopulation and find a clean power source all the other problems will take care of themselves.  How simple! You’re welcomed planet.

        Again though, I think the only way to quickly deal with overpopulation is to legislate it.  Simply waiting for the third world to industrialize and reduce its population growth just isn't a solution.  At this point I'm not arguing for something as draconian as China's policy, but I definitely think that there should be tax benefits to married couples that have two or fewer children.  Catholics would freak out at that though.  They'd call it religious persecution, and it certainly would never get through Congress. Realistically we must encourage social custom to value fewer numbers of children and better educate people our age and younger about overpopulation.  With that we need to advocate sex education programs for youth.  Education for this is the key to solving it.  I suppose education is the key to solving just about everything.  If only we could teach everyone about the sciences and have them actually learn and understand what they are taught, a lot of these problems would be at least easier to solve.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Serious conversations (part 51):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The fifty-first and fifty-second entries deal with overpopulation.

        I would argue that overpopulation is the root of all of our problems.  If there were only a couple of billion people on the planet and we had the same level of agriculture and technology, there would be no hunger and our problem with a lack of energy would be at the least much slower.  We wouldn't have to be worrying about running out of water or food; disease would be a much smaller issue.  The economy would be much more stable because we wouldn't have to worry about territorialism or having such a large welfare system, and since there would be so few people, growth would be much easier.  We also wouldn't have gone to Iraq for a useless war.  

        Since speculating about what the world would be like without so many people is pointless, let me instead focus on the problem we now have.  It's very clear that the expanding population is not sustainable.  There are people dying of thirst and hunger presently not just because there isn’t enough but also food cannot be distributed to them.  Now, as countries develop, the birth rate drastically decreases; unfortunately, the planet cannot wait for every nation to industrialize.  As up in arms as everyone would be, China's one child policy is working great.  As soon as their baby boom generation dies, their population will decrease.  Perhaps India and South America and Africa should instate the same policy.  Alas, churches and conservatism would have nothing of that.  The Catholic church in particular would sooner see the planet die than suggest that birth control is all right.  So the question becomes what do we do about it?  This brings us back to space travel.  Very soon we are going to have to start mining asteroids for metals.  In fact, recently in the news there have been private proposals to mine asteroids, and one of NASA’s newest projects is to lasso an asteroid and drag it to the Lagrange Point on the other side of the moon. Just mining one asteroid would satiate our needs for thousands of years.  Beyond that, we need a miracle in space travel.

        If I may make a prediction, here is what I believe will happen at the really bad end of the scale.  The population will continue to grow at the present rate.  By the time we get to around 10 billion people (around 2080 according to the UN), we will have exhausted a lot of the easily attainable fossil fuels.  Assuming that we haven't perfected fusion yet and that most of the climate predictions come true, wars will be fought for energy, food, water.  That won't be the worst.  At some point mother nature will fix what by then will be the "human problem".  Some sort of disease will eradicate a large percentage of the population, and we will have to start again.   Fortunately I'll be almost 100 by then, so I won't care. It certainly sucks for our posterity though.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Serious conversations (part 50):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The forty-sixth through fiftieth entries deal with introversion/extroversion, social interaction and popularity.

        Before we talked about what makes someone popular, and I entertained everyone with how I view myself in social interactions. In this closing chapter of the popularity series I take one last look at how I view myself in social situations, specifically how I view myself as an introvert.

        I am definitely a introvert when it comes to spontaneous functions. I must know in advance that something is going to happen or I just won’t go to it. Impromptu events make me nervous and uneasy, which is classic introvert behavior. I can’t just have people over; it must be planned at least multiple hours in advance and preferably days. If it is 11:30 and I’m invited to lunch I usually decline, even if I might want to go otherwise. Being confined by my personality is somewhat annoying, but it means decisions are sometimes already made before I’m even confronted with them. It makes life much easier, and I’m all about that.

        I’ve written on this before, but I’ll say it again. When I first meet a group of people I’m very shy. I hate meeting new people, not because I don’t like people, but because I don’t know how to act. It takes me some amount of time to get used to the group so that I know that they accept my level of awkwardness. After the initial trial period I go through I open up pretty quickly. As a consequence of my delayed release extroversion I hate interacting with strangers or making small talk with acquaintances. Of all the social interactions I dread it is being thrown into an icebreaker type of situation with people that I’m never going to interact with again; that fills me with the most dread. I’d rather sit in a corner and people watch than be forced to get to know people with whom I’ll never have a relationship. Unfortunately people watching has become associated with being a creeper or being just plain weird. That’s a darn shame. People I don’t know are interesting when I don’t have to talk to them. (Rereading that, that sounds terrible, but I’m not going to delete it.)

        Closing this chapter of the series I have to say that people are interesting to me but I certainly don’t completely understand how to act around them.

        Next time we begin a whole new chapter on overpopulation.

Friday, May 24, 2013

House buying

I’ve owned a house for about nine months now, and I had a friend ask for some advice on buying a house. I though I should pass along such advice here. I was asked these questions: Did you have any trouble getting a good mortgage, given that you're young and haven't really been in the full-time workforce?  Did you shop around with different banks a bunch? Did you work with a realtor?  If so, how did you select one?

My answers: I did work with a realtor.  They are worth the few percent they charge, though at many points I questioned the competency of my realtor and lender. Even with their marginal competency they were worth it.  I interviewed about half a dozen realtors before picking the one I used.  I found them via online searches of realtors for the area.  I came up with a standardized list of questions, and I picked my realtor based off of their responses, how easily I could contact them directly, and their enthusiasm for helping me.   I could tell a couple of the realtors were too busy to work with me because they only talked with me for a few minutes.  I'll list the questions I asked at the end of the email.  Some of the answers are from some friends of mine that have already bought two houses.  You can also search online about how to find a realtor.  

The only real problem I had with my mortgage was that they required proof that I would get a regular paycheck.  I bought the house before I started pulling a salary from my assistantship, so I had my parents cosign my loan.  It cost me about a tenth of a percent more in APR, but it was worth not getting an apartment for a few months first.  I did make sure my credit history was very good before I began the whole process though.  I had a credit card for a few years before hand and never missed a payment, so I had and still have a very high credit score.  If you don't have a good credit score, you should wait until you improve it.  There are plenty of online guides on how to do that.  

I checked a few banks to get an estimate of how expensive my loan would be, and they were all comparable.  In the end I simply went with the mortgage company my realtor recommended.  (Again, a realtor is worth it.)

I cannot recommend getting a house enough.  You don't share a wall with anyone.  When something needs fixing you just fix it instead of waiting for a landlord.  I love having my own garden again.  You can be as loud as you want.  I am paying less for the mortgage on a three bedroom house with a quarter of an acre than some of my grad school cohorts are paying for renting their two bedroom apartments.  The beauty of that is I will own probably two thirds of the house when I leave Texas; my cohorts will have just given a lot of money to a property management company.

Realtor questions

1.)  Is this your full time job?  How many clients are you currently representing?

15 is too many for a buyer

2.)  Ask about fee

What if I come across the house I want without you helping me?

The seller pays the buyer’s agent using the money you pay for the house, typically 3% of the sales price. Some buyer’s agents refund part of this fee.

3.)  Experience

4.)  How will you communicate with me?

5.) How many sales have you handled in my target neighborhoods?

You want someone who knows the local market, with a few recent deals in your target neighborhoods.

6.) When am I committed to working with you?

Many consumers start touring homes without realizing this can obligate them to work with the agent, contract or no contract.

7.)  How many foreclosure or short-sale transactions have you handled?

Distressed properties can be great deals, but the paperwork is complicated, and your liability is greater. The best agents have experience closing deals with banks.

8.)  Who else will be working with me?

An agent is often supported by a team. But the person you hire should do most of the work.

9.)  How quickly can you get me into a home?

Hot homes move fast. Ask how the agent handles tours on short notice.

10.)  Do you represent buyers and sellers on the same house?

No agent can fairly represent both. You need someone on your side.

11.)  May I Review Documents Beforehand That I Will Be Asked to Sign?

A sign of a good real estate agent is a professional who makes forms available to you for preview before you are required to sign them. If at all possible, ask for these documents upfront.

As a buyer, ask for copies of the following:

Buyer's Broker Agreement (is it exclusive or non-exclusive?)

Agency Disclosures

Purchase Agreement

Buyer Disclosures

12.)  What sets you apart from other agents?

Look for expertise, not just eagerness. You aren’t hiring the neighborhood kid to rake your leaves.

13.) Can I get references for your last five deals?

Every agent has clients he served well. But the best agents serve nearly all of their clients well. Getting an agent’s last five clients will give you a more balanced picture of his service than letting him choose his most favorable references. Call at least two of the five, asking clients some of the same questions you asked him. Look closely at these last five deals to see how they compare to similar sales in the neighborhood. Did he negotiate a good price for each customer?

14.). How Will You Help Me Find Other Professionals?

Let the real estate agent explain to you who she works with and why she chooses these professionals. Your agent should be able to supply you with a written list of referring vendors such as mortgage brokers, home inspectors and title companies. Ask for an explanation if you see the term "affiliated" because it could mean that the agent and her broker are receiving compensation from one or all of vendors, and you could be paying a premium for the service.

15.)  What Haven't I Asked You That I Need to Know?

Friday, May 03, 2013

Serious conversations (part 49):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The forty-sixth through fiftieth entries deal with introversion/extroversion, social interaction and popularity.

        I’m sure we could have a whole discussion about why some kids are popular and some are not. Suffice it to say that it seems almost arbitrary to me. Although physical attractiveness seems to play a lot into it, doing extra curricular activities that play on qualities of attractiveness are also important. The guys should play sports that demonstrate physical prowess, and the girls should dance or cheerlead. Noting that that statement is awfully sexist, I would argue that popularity is sexist. Popularity reduces everyone to a certain paradigm, and outside of that paradigm you simply don’t fit in.

        I think one also has to be average in other respects, such as and especially intelligence. You can’t be too smart or too dumb. Too smart, you are made fun of for being a nerd. Too dumb, you’re made fun of for being, well, dumb. I don’t remember any “dumb” popular people. The popular people squeaked by grade wise and didn’t attract any attention.

        I tried for a minute or so to think up an unattractive popular person from high school. I could not. Same for my college career. I can’t think of an ugly popular person. People have to be drawn to someone to make them popular. The first thing someone notices about a new person is how pretty they are, not how well spoken or smart or athletic. It is physical attractiveness. People are shallow, me included. Now, I’m not arguing that attractiveness is the only important quality. I can think of many, many pretty people that aren’t popular. Outward self-confidence is important; self-presentation is important. You have to know that you’re popular to be popular. That is connected to knowing how to handle oneself in public, knowing how to talk smoothly, knowing amicable gestures and body language, not being socially awkward (see SC part 48). There is a lot to it, and I’m sure psychologists spend entire lifetimes studying the issue. Additionally, I’ve noticed that people who do not care about popularity are not generally popular. Again, you must know you are popular to be popular.

        There definitely is a hierarchy to popularity. Just speculating, I’d have to say that the Alpha Popular comes from the paragon. They are the most attractive, the most adept at social convention, most self-confident, etc. They are the epitome of such a character. Others aspire to be them. From personal experience I think that adolescence is the trigger for all of this. I remember being great friends with just about everyone in elementary school, but when puberty kicked in I wasn’t good enough anymore. I suspect it was because of my demure stature. I was a nerd and not good at sports, so I simply became irrelevant.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Serious conversations (part 48):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The forty-sixth through fiftieth entries deal with introversion/extroversion, social interaction and popularity.

        Previously I talked about my own personal social interactions (Part 46) and speculating on why people find bar hopping of all things so interesting (Part 47). This time I work on physical interactions.

        Speaking of social awkwardness, not a social interaction goes by where I don’t screw up physical interactions. I don’t know when to shake someone’s hand or when not to; is it a handshake or a high five? Also what kind of hand shake? Is it going to be a regular one or the one where you grab around each other’s thumbs? And then is this the kind of person that tries to get your fingers to snap when you pull your hands apart or what? Some guys also like hugging. That leaves me clueless as to when that is socially acceptable. Bumping fists has become a big thing as well recently. I have no idea what to do about that. I feel like Barack and Michelle Obama fistbumping while it is happening, but in hindsight I think I look like an idiot. And then there are the interactions towards girls. I never know if I am suppose to hug someone. I don’t particularly like hugging anyway, but I know quite a few girls (and the more extroverted they are the more they want to hug) who hug for all occasions. I haven’t seen you in five years...hug. I haven’t seen you since yesterday...hug. I’m sad...hug. I’m happy...hug. And then there are other forms of physical contact -- a jovial slap on the back, a punch in the shoulder, etc. I just don’t get it. I always try to anticipate when each action goes where, but I think I force it too much. Others often give me quizzical looks. Granted, I’ve gotten a lot better because I always try to stick to handshakes. It is difficult to go wrong with those. When I am in a group I can always just follow someone else’s lead. But it is baffling to me how the cool people know what physical interaction is appropriate. Did they all go to Debutant school and all have some sort of secret look to know how to act? Aside, dancing also confounds me. I’ve had some dancing lessons, so I kind of know how they do it. However, as far as complicated moves, I’m at a loss as well. Do any nerds have physical interactions figured out?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Serious conversations (part 47):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The forty-sixth through fiftieth entries deal with introversion/extroversion, social interaction and popularity.

        Last time we started a whole new topic focused on social interaction. I summarized my own personal trouble with social interactions. This entry is a bit of a rathole. I send a bit of time wondering why certain activities are so interesting to some people.

        I frequently have issues of believing people beneath my time. It is an issue that I have struggled with and come to terms with over the last few years. I, honestly, don’t find very many people intellectually stimulating, and that is not to say that I believe I’m smarter than everyone else. I believe quite the opposite in fact. There are many people more knowledgeable than me on a great many subjects. The problem I have is that I don’t know many people that share similar interests with me. Why have a conversation with some acquaintance about some topic I find inconsequential when you could be doing something you find interesting? Most of the people I don’t give much attention to aren’t bad in any sense of the word; they just aren’t interesting to me. Conversely, I try not to be offended when people act like I’m not worth their time. If we don’t share something in common, there is no reason to interact except to be polite. Indeed why do we make friends with certain people and not other, because we find them interesting.

        Following along that line of reasoning, what makes certain subjects/activities interesting to certain people? I wonder why it is that certain activities have been socially adopted as the “things to do”. For example, why is going bar hopping an activity that so many find fascinating? Having been drug “out” on many occasions, there is nothing particularly fun about it. You just end up spending a lot of money. It’s much easier to purchase what you need to make your own drinks and do it at home. I wonder if this speaks to the laziness of people, which is not to say that I think people who do go bar hopping are lazy. It is just a lot less mentally taxing to go drink than it is to enjoy a concert or some such or read a book. Also I think some of the popular enjoyment of the activity results from spontaneity and from the social interaction it allows. I remember from my Psych 101 class that a trait of extroversion is spontaneity. It makes sense that an extrovert that has made no plans for the evening suddenly decides to go out, and bar hopping is the easiest activity. Also, think about what there actually is to do that can be done spontaneously. Going out to eat, seeing a moving, there isn’t very much.

        I think a lot of my particular situation is that there isn’t much to do in Starkville besides going out to drink. There is no symphony or theatre company, no art shows or the like, just a lot of bars. I hope this problem is somewhat alleviated when I move to TX because there are so many big cities nearby.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Serious conversations (part 46):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The forty-sixth through forty-eighth entries deal with introversion/extroversion, social interaction and popularity.

Previously we talked about globalization, peace, and war. Here we completely change gears to a new topic. This issue can only be dealt with from a personal point of view since it deals with one’s interactions with other people.

        Being a bit of an introvert, I have found that with most extroverts that they must have something to do every weekend or even during the week if they are bored, and if you or I are not able to attend these impromptu events frequently, we introverts are generally forgotten about. Unfortunately, most extroverts are perfectly happy just going out to some sort of bar and just talking. Having been drug out to events like that, I do not find that appealing. I find it to be a waste of money, so I often decline the invitation. I do admit to being a “stick in the mud” though.

        The last two years while I have been in graduate school, I have kept mostly to myself. All the friends I made while I was an undergrad had left, and I was not in any of the same classes as the rest of the people in the same year of my program. So I just did things on my own mostly, which is great usually because I like to keep busy. However, in those moments when I just want to relax, it is nice to have someone around. And in actuality, I am much more comfortable in social interactions with just a couple of people instead of some sort of party environment.

        The field of physics doesn’t seem to be very social at all. It could just be that the students at MSU and the few places where I’ve visited actual physicists aren’t that social, and everyone else is. Meteorologists, especially of the non-research variety, tend to be very social, so I don’t really have to worry about finding things to do, people come to me. Generally they come to me with things I don’t particular want to do, but they do come.

        I have had trouble having best friends. I believe this originates from the fact that I don’t really hang out with just one person. I have several groups of people that I do different activities with. Close relationships develop because two people spend large amounts of time together. That involves a lot of time just hanging out with each other, which I do not do much of. Additionally, I too have trouble finding people to do interesting things with me. This has a lot to do with uniqueness. There aren’t many people interested in the things I am interested in, but I can cultivate that interest in people we already know. Example, I wanted a bunch of people to watch the transit of Venus with me, and I convinced one non-scientist friend of mine to join me. He was skeptical at first, but when we finally got to see it through the telescope, he was awestruck. I have also shown this friend the rings of Saturn and the great red spot, and he is fascinated with astronomy now. So I now have an astronomy friend. I have had to do similar things with gardening, computers etc. You can cultivate interests in others, and in fact aren’t some of your own interested started because friends introduced those ideas to you.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Serious conversations (part 45):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The forty-third through forty-fifth entries deal with globalization, peace, and war.

        Last time I covered globalization. Is it good or bad? What do we lose from globalization? Could it lead us to peace? Here I chat about it preventing war.

        At this point, I think the globe has become homogenized enough that WWIII is unlikely.  However, oblivion is always an option.  Some new faction might arise very quickly somewhere.  We know very, very little about the power structure in China, for example.  I also don't see the dark ages reoccurring.  The dark ages were a result of one large empire, the Romans/Byzantines collapsing.  There are too many countries on separate parts of the globe for that to happen again:  US, Europe, Australia, Korea/Japan, China, South America, Russia.  What could happen is a global economic collapse.  That definitely could set us back, but some region would make it out.  We aren't so interconnected that if one regions falls everything falls.  See how well the US and China are doing despite the Eurozone crisis.  Even though Germany is a member of the Eurozone, it is doing quite well.  In stock investing, diversification is important to minimize losses.  I hope that those that wield the power to affect globalization recognize this and prevent the global from becoming so economically interdependent that there is no diversification.

        One bad thing globalization has brought us is the sweatshop and exploitation of workers. I would hope that technological achievement will allow us to the pass the threshold of sweatshops.  Eventually, robots will be able to perform all of these mundane, physically  demanding tasks (Let's just make sure they don't become sentient.).  Hopefully this will happen sooner rather than later.  However, I think that there will always be a class system; there will always be someone on the bottom having to perform the tasks that are just too complicated enough for the most sophisticated robots.  As long as the world is driven by money instead of some grand ideal of betterment (a la the Star Trek universe), there will always be the workers separate from the power holders.  [Presently, it really disturbs me how much money is involved getting elected (I thank many of our logically incompetent Supreme Court justices for that.), and it gets worse every year.]

        It concerns me, and has for quite a while, how dependent the economy is on growth.  Growth is what makes the world go.  This is clearly not sustainable as economic growth can only be achieved as long as the population is growing. And this is partly why I think leaders ignore our population problem because if we face it we have to rethink how economies work.  I am no economist, so I don't have a clue how to go about retuning our economic system to something other than growth.  

Friday, January 18, 2013

Serious conversations (part 44):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The forty-third through forty-fifth entries deal with globalization, peace, and war.

Last time I discussed why I think global peace is possible. Now to tackle this from the perspective of globalization. Is globalization good, bad? Who does it hurt/help?

        We are kind of at a half globalization currently; most of the middle east and parts of S. America are left out as is pretty much the entire continent of Africa and other scattered Pacific nations. What has it gotten us? We are well connected, the spread of ideas is nigh instantaneous, any good imaginable is easily obtainable, costs of those goods are dropping. From that I can see globalization is a positive thing. But what did we have to give to achieve it? Exploitation is number one. From what is trickling out of China, the conditions there are reprehensible. What companies are doing to workers is more like indentured servitude, forcing them to work overtime for minimal pay. What globalization has done to them is war by another name: economic war. They suffer while we bask in our cheap iPhones. And if we thought the propaganda from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was easily manipulated, that is nothing compared to the lines we are fed regarding what we do to people on the bottom rung of globalization. Granted though, I own a lot of the cheap products that are created by these poor people, and I don’t do a thing about it. A lot of it is because they are faceless, and this is the economic hardship we place on others to serve out capitalistic wants. They are faceless causalities. However, it is true that there will always be the weak, and they will always be exploited. It is the nature of humanity.

        What about the loss of unique cultures as a result of globalization: I agree that it is somewhat of a problem, but I have very little concern for it - mostly because it isn’t my culture being threatened. As I see it, the only way to prevent further cultural loss is for everyone to stop cross-cultural communication altogether, which just won’t happen. Loss of culture has been happening for millennia, and it certainly won’t stop if the entire planet collectively decides that globalization is a bad thing, so I don’t think it is a valid reason to stop globalization.

        Now is globalization going to lead us to world peace? I’m not sure I could even speculate. I suppose you could argue that as globalization occurs large scale war will decrease, but I doubt that small scale war will be solved. There will always be localized conflict (e.g. do you think globalization will solve the Palestinian/Israeli conflict? That will never be fixed unless they both completely lose their cultural identity. That will take hundreds of years at least.) I guess I’m just not thinking about this long term. Given enough time, globalization will help peace because we will become homogenized to the point that there is only human culture. I just don’t see that happening though. In the US there any numerous distinct cultures even though we are the same country. Southern culture is nothing like west coast culture is nothing like northeastern culture. I don’t think globalization will completely solve war.

        To summarize: globalization is good and inevitable. Loss of culture happens naturally anyway, so we might as well achieve some good (peace) as uniqueness is lost.

2003-2016 Michael Battalio (michael[at]battalio.com)