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Aunt Pythia’s advice

November 17, 2012

Readers, one great thing about not collecting your email addresses when I collect your questions is that I can’t contact you to edit your questions down to reasonable size, so I just go ahead and do it myself. I hope you don’t mind.

Also, new this week: Aunt Pythia lets you answer a question! See below.

Finally, if you want to ask Aunt Pythia a question (please do, and thanks!), please find the form at the bottom.


Dear Aunt Pythia,

Do you think that it makes sense that people in leadership position whose extramarital affair becomes uncovered should resign? 

Alpha Liberal

Dear Alpha Liberal,

Here’s what I think. In thirty years, if we haven’t seen a politician naked, people will exclaim,

“Hey, What are you hiding? Where’s the dic pic??

I know that’s not answering your question, but I think it’s gonna happen, and I wanted to mention it.

Going back to your question: I don’t think simply having an affair should be held against somebody. Sleeping around is far too common, possibly universally pervasive among successful, powerful people; it’s like firing someone for admitting they sometimes let the elevator close when they see someone coming. Everyone does it sometimes, it’s a way of letting out our urban aggression.

But possibly even that is not a great analogy, because it implies an ethically questionable act. For all we know, the politician (or anyone, really) has an open marriage and is just plain not being shady at all.

Having said that, we do need to be able to trust our leaders and the heads of secret service; we don’t want them to be blackmail-able and to do crazy things to hide their (possibly inevitable) affair. And by firing them for letting it out, we are just giving them an even stronger incentive to hide it under any condition.

My suggestion is this: only elect politicians who have already had an affair, admitted to them, and have kept their marriages intact. That way we know they can deal with those situations like grown-ups and the world isn’t going to end when it happens again next time.

I hope that helps,

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

The mortgage interest deduction is a terrible regressive policy. How can I get my liberal friends question it? Or at least talk about it? Or am I wrong?

Big Bald Guy

Dear BBG,

First of all, I agree that it’s terrible. In terms of how to talk about it, I think it kind of depends on how much time you have and how nerdy they are, but try this and write back to give me feedback on whether it works.

Start the conversation by talking about any kind of governmental policy that fixes prices. So for example you can discuss the fact that the price of milk is set by the federal government (which doesn’t mean that the price is always low or affordable).

Ask your liberal friend, who does that benefit? Since it doesn’t apply to organic milk, the answer is the poor (note: a cursory look at the organic v. conventional milk production industry reveals that it’s insanely complicated and interesting and that I’d hate to be a dairy farmer).

Next, mention that the price of houses is fixed in the opposite direction, so higher, by dint of the mortgage tax deduction – it’s easier to pay the monthly mortgage bill after figuring the tax relief, so I can afford a larger price.

And who does that benefit? The people who own houses. Moreover, a family trying to buy a house in this system of inflated housing prices has to come up with a larger 20% downpayment than they otherwise would without it.

So in other words, it benefits already rich people, or people who can borrow from their rich friends for the downpayment, and it keeps the poor out of the market with a higher-than-reasonable obstacle of entry. Once you get them there, they might see it as a bad policy, or at least might admit they have a vested interest if they own a house themselves.

I hope that helps,



Dear Aunt Pythia,

I like the Rolling Jubilee idea in theory, but can’t get past the random purchase of the debt. I don’t like the idea of buying the debt of someone who made choices to live beyond their means. Where do you, personally, draw the line between anger at the banking policies and capitalist focus versus the need for individuals to be responsible for making decent decisions about their own lives?


Dear Curious,

Most people declaring bankruptcy because of their debt problems do so because of their medical debt. Most people who rack up credit card debt do so because their monthly bills and living expenses overwhelm them and they end up putting groceries on their credit cards.

I used to complain about people buying flat-screen TV’s for no good reason but I haven’t seen nearly as much of that behavior since the credit crisis, have you?

Aunt Pythia


Aunt Pythia,

My loving, wonderful, caring boyfriend slurps his food. Not just soup — everything (even cereal!). Should I just deal with it, or say something? I think if I comment on it he’ll be offended, but I find it distracting during our meals together.

Food (Consumption) Critic

(Readers: please leave your answer as a comment below. I’ll choose my favorite for next week as well as answering the question myself.)


Categories: Aunt Pythia
  1. Aquifer
    November 17, 2012 at 9:47 am

    Re slurping – maybe the next time you serve him a meal, forget the knife, fork, and spoon and just leave a straw …. As long as it’s a big one it shouldn’t be a problem and will probably cut down on the noise ..


  2. November 17, 2012 at 10:23 am

    I’d go with blunt but not particularly bothered – halfway through his next bowl of cereal, exclaim “Wow, you really slurp your food, don’t you?! I never noticed that before.”


  3. John Zelnicker
    November 18, 2012 at 11:39 am

    Aunt Pythia — Great answer to your first question. However, the number of people available under that condition might be kinda small.
    Your second is spot on. It is the unfortunate case that many of the major tax benefits available to individuals are regressive including pretty much the entire Schedule A. A better solution would be to raise the standard deduction to something like the official poverty level. Or, some better constructed index of basic food, clothing, and shelter expenses.


  4. Larry Headlund
    November 18, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    No the Federal government does not set the price of milk. What is does do is support the price, act as a buyer of last resort, by offering to purchase a variety of milk products at a stated price. Hence it attempts to set a minimum price that farmers will be paid for their product. The price farmers are paid for milk is (very roughly) about a third of what consumers pay at the retail level.

    Why does the Federal government do this? The theory is it is good to reduce the risk, dampen price swings for mik products because milk production is inflexible in the short term: you can’t milk Bessie a little less or a little more based on the spot price for milk. Reducing risk will result in more stable prices, which are goos for everyone,

    That’s the argument, anyway.

    Organic milk is not part of it because they are a premium product and sell above the Federal minimum at all times.


  5. Society to Prevent Slurping
    November 18, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    why don’t you feed him something he can’t slurp?

    Here are a few suggestions from our chef consultant:

    Roasted lamb with mint
    baked potatoes
    peanuts or almonds
    Bread of most varieties
    broiled swordfish and shrimp
    French fries
    Potato chips and doritoes
    Pizza usually
    Beef Jerkey
    Fig newtons

    You have a grocery store full of alternatives. Why do you present this question as if your boyfriend is at fault? Don’t ask what your boyfriend can do to stop slurping, ask what you can cook and serve to prevent it in the first place.

    You sound like a very high maintenance girlfriend. We think you should be a little worried for yourself if you want to keep your man.


    • Aquifer
      November 18, 2012 at 10:58 pm

      Watch out – peanuts, almonds and cherries could prove fatal to a dedicated slurper – of course that would be one way to solve the problem …


    • Kt
      November 20, 2012 at 1:06 am

      Ok, who is higher maintenance: the “slurping disgusts me” girlfriend or the poster who is telling you to make your boyfriend a sandwich? so that you can keep your slurpy man? because he will leave you for having opinions about manners otherwise? because that is so high maintenance?

      I liked the food recs but the “Honey, make him a lamb roast! Ask not that your boyfriend get manners — ask instead what dinner you can get him!” is a bit much!


  6. Lior Silberman
    November 18, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    In fact, the Federal Government sets a minimum price for milk, which should be your first indication that this is a transfer of wealth from the poor to dairy farmers rather than the other way around. Even worse, prices are set by region (so cheaply-produced milk cannot be used in “high cost” areas to reduce prices) and by use.

    If the goal was to help the poor, the market would have been deregulated. We know that prices would go down (else there would be no need to set the minimum price), which would help milk users (especially the poor) and large commercial dairies who will probably be able to offer the cheapest milk. The main losers would be “family farms”, but I don’t see why just because some farmers like to have small operations the rest of the country should subsidize them.

    I think many posters on this blog (including me) can easily afford organic milk from local farms — in my opinion where the market should be for small operations —
    but I don’t think that it’s right to ask the general public to subsidize such extravagant habits, either indirectly through taxes or even worse by forcing a high price on milk which is a terribly regressive approach.


  7. K
    November 19, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    the mortgage deduction has first order effects on both houses (increasing demand) and mortgages (increasing demand).

    The first benefits home owners, i.e. rich people. The second benefits mortgage issues, i.e., banks


    • Larry Headlund
      November 19, 2012 at 3:57 pm

      “The first benefits home owners, i.e. rich people.”
      Leaving aside the label of home owners as ‘rich people’ (67% of households own their own home) the current home owners overwhelmingly acquired the property after its price had been inflated by the tax credit. The average house changes hands every six years and the average “homeowner’ equity is 50% so at best they are partners in any rise in price.

      One group that unambiguosly benefits from the mortgage deduction is the developers of new housing. They don’t have the legacy expense and the value of their product is inflated. Economics 101 says this should result in increased supply and hence lower costs but there is a reason there is Economics 102 and higher.

      A third group is the housing finance industry. Almost all the annual spending on ‘homeowner’ housing is for interest on home loans. Inflate that pool of money by inflating the housing prices and those who live by dipping their beak in that pool do well indeed,


  8. john c. halasz
    November 19, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    Your mortgage interest deduction reply actually missed the key point. That by allowing buyers to afford a higher monthly payment and thus bid up housing prices, the “deduction” ends up going to higher loan principal for any given interest rate and thus ends up getting passed through to banks and other lenders. So it’s largely an illusory “benefit” to home owners, though eliminating it would lower housing prices and thus hurt current owners of housing equity. So the issue is how to compensate such home owners, while eliminating such a pernicious subsidy.


  9. Liz Little
    November 21, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Beware of the little things that drive you crazy. Couples can get through a death in the family, a housing crisis, and a flood because they pull together and put effort into getting through the storm. But that slurping sound at every dang meal of every dang day will kill the relationship. I had to leave my second husband for the way he breathed. He couldn’t help it and I couldn’t stand it.


  1. November 24, 2012 at 6:59 am
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