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Ask Aunt Pythia

April 27, 2013

I’m gratified to find a few new questions in Aunt Pythia’s in box this morning – I really thought I’d have to retire her persona, since I plumb ran out of questions last week, and that was making me sad. Thanks for the questions, friends! And please don’t forget to:

Submit your question for Aunt Pythia at the bottom of this page!


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I was recently on a flight where the person sitting next to me found it appropriate to hit on me. Now, he was a reasonably intelligent and nice person (up until the time that he mentioned that most of his recent dates were “short fat pigs” and asked me if I was single, despite previously indicating in his conversation that he thought I was 20 yers younger than he is).

However, now he has hunted down my email address and started contacting me. Is there anything wrong with getting my friends to anonymously pay him back for his objectification and slight harrassment of me (putting him on spam email lists, sending him fake magazine subscriptions, etc.), and if not, can you recommend things for us to try?

Sexy, If Not Going for Lame Extra-masculine-creeps


I have to ask a couple of things here for the sake of clarity.

First, I need to assume you expressed a lack of interest in this guy when he started hitting on you – either by saying “I’m not interested, thanks” or something along those lines, or by lying outright when he asked you whether you’re single (“I’m married with 14 kids, if it’s you who’s asking the question”). I would include the possibility of an evasion of all things romantic/sexual, but if he didn’t ask enough of a direct question to have you respond like that, then I’m not sure I’d call it hitting on you. And if he did hit on you and you didn’t say no thanks, then maybe he felt like your signals weren’t negative, so why not give it a shot.

As for hunting down your email address, if you mentioned you work at a certain math department, say, and he found your email address on that website, and then wrote to you, that’s a different level of hunt then if you have a private email address which he found god knows how. I’m not saying there’s no creep factor at all in emailing you, but if he felt a connection that he didn’t want to assume was only him, than this whole thing might be kind of sweet and explainable and not really creepy (from his perspective).

I guess my point is that you do have to say no at some point for someone’s wishful thinking to get on track. I realize this isn’t exactly fair, since you never asked for the attention in the first place, but a lot of people, especially men, are trained to assume they’re right unless they’ve been explicitly told they’re wrong.

On the other hand, if you did say “no thanks” in one way or another, and/or if he really hunted for your email address, then I’d agree that it’s too much. I hope the very first time he wrote to you you responded by saying, “I’m not interested. Please do not write to me again.”

Now, assuming that the above happened, and he still wrote a second and third time, pressing his case, I’d say you and your friends definitely sign him up for all sorts of stuff. Especially Viagra stuff. Plus, one of your other friends should write to him telling him to back the fuck off. And then block his emails using a filter.

Hope that helps,

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I recently heard your interviews on Econ Talk and Frontline and enjoyed them VERY much. Thank you. I was wondering … in light of your experiences, how do you invest your money?

Warren Buffett

Dear Warren,

Thanks for the kind words!

I don’t invest my money in an active way. And it annoys me to think about how much the managers of retirement accounts get paid to do nothing with people’s money, but on the other hand I sympathize with people who don’t change that set-up, because it would require some real research, and in the end the retirement industry isn’t set up to let people invest in things they actually care about – instead we’re supposed to think that the only thing we care about is when we retire, which is supposed to translate magically into a risk appetite.

One more thing: I’m not regretting any of this. I never, ever want to become one of those people who check their stocks all the time.

BORING!! You people are BORING!!!

Almost as boring as people who talk about exercise and/or dieting all the time!!!!

Instead I am grateful that I have a job that helps me pay my bills and allows me to not think about money very much.

This might mean I don’t have enough money at retirement, but first of all I’m not planning to retire, and second of all there are a hell of a lot of people in this country way worse off than I am, and we’re all going to have to figure this out somehow (expand Social Security!).

Auntie P


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I am in my late twenties and have begun thinking about saving for retirement.

I am a public school teacher and I make around 35k/year. I currently have a small amount of money in a generic target-year retirement Roth IRA. I would like to do so in a way that helps my money grow but also is not supporting unethical banks or other companies that contribute to social/environmental degradation. Is this possible?

Now that I am looking into “socially responsible investing,” it seems like a rabbit hole. For example, I found a Vanguard fund that was billed as “socially responsible” that avoided oil company and tobacco company holdings, but that meant that most of its top holdings were in financial institutions that have been in the headlines for their mismanagement of money and power.

Other funds I have found (Domini), require a larger up-front contribution that I can make at this time. I have also heard that investing (as I would do it) is value-neutral because you’re not actually buying the company or benefitting directly from their profits, but I am suspicious of this reasoning. Anyhow, as someone with background in finance and an eye towards making money decisions that take a broad view of “cost benefit analysis”, do you have any insight into so-called “ethical investing”?


Dear Investigating,

You already know way more than I do about this stuff (see previous answer). I’d love to hear from readers who have even more knowledge of “ethical investing”, specifically if it’s a scam to take advantage of people who want to consider themselves environmentally conscious (probability: 99.3%).

As you can see I don’t have a lot of faith in this industry. I don’t even think it should be an industry – I think we should provide for retired people directly through Social Security and stop feeding all these funds to the market.

Speaking of this question, has anyone seen the new Frontline called “The Retirement Gamble”? Producer Marcela Gaviria told me my previous Frontline interview inspired her to make it (I’m so fucking proud!), and the questions today inspired me to watch it just now. It contains a really great explanation of why I don’t trust the assholes in this industry, nor do I have much hope for it to change any time soon. Everyone should watch it! Caveat: a bit too much of an advertisement for Vanguard, but otherwise excellent.

I wish I could be more encouraging.


Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

Have you seen this crazy letter from a sorority member to the rest of her sorority? Is this your typical sorority? If so I really missed something in college but that was so long ago that reptiles walked the earth. 

John Doe

Dear John,

Oh my god I was hoping someone would ask me about that. For those of you who haven’t read the letter, here’s the critical part:

I do not give a flying fuck, and Sigma Nu does not give a flying fuck, about how much you fucking love to talk to your sisters. You have 361 days out of the fucking year to talk to sisters, and this week is NOT, I fucking repeat NOT ONE OF THEM. This week is about fostering relationships in the Greek community, and that’s not fucking possible if you’re going to stand around and talk to each other and not our matchup. Newsflash you stupid cocks: FRATS DON’T LIKE BORING SORORITIES. Oh wait, DOUBLE FUCKING NEWSFLASH: SIGMA NU IS NOT GOING TO WANT TO HANG OUT WITH US IF WE FUCKING SUCK, which by the way in case you’re an idiot and need it spelled out for you, WE FUCKING SUCK SO FAR.

My take on this: for whatever reason, and it’s a total mystery to me, these sorority members feel like they have to win the approval of a bunch of men in a fraternity. And it’s not a mystery what kind of approval:

“Ohhh, I’m now crying because your email has made me oh so so sad”. Well good. If this email applies to you in any way, meaning if you are a little asswipe that stands in the corners at night or if you’re a weird shit that does weird shit during the day, this following message is for you:


I’m not fucking kidding. Don’t go. Seriously, if you have done ANYTHING I’ve mentioned in this email and have some rare disease where you’re unable to NOT do these things, then you are HORRIBLE, I repeat, HORRIBLE PR FOR THIS CHAPTER. I would rather have 40 girls that are fun, talk to boys, and not fucking awkward than 80 that are fucking faggots. If you are one of the people that have told me “Oh nooo boo hoo I can’t talk to boys I’m too sober”, then I pity you because I don’t know how you got this far in life, and with that in mind don’t fucking show up unless you’re going to stop being a goddamn cock block for our chapter. Seriously. I swear to fucking God if I see anyone being a goddamn boner at tonight’s event, I will tell you to leave even if you’re sober. I’m not even kidding. Try me.

Okay so it’s a sexual kind of thing, judging from the phrasing. Although I’m not sure exactly what being a boner means.

My take is: whatever social currency these women are hoping to capture, it involves impressing men with their friendliness, flirtatiousness, and possibly their actual sexual promiscuity, if I’m not reading too much into it.

If I’m not wrong, what’s being described sounds like a piece of a larger system whereby sororities compete with each other for the approval of fraternities. And a system in which the sorority members get yelled at if they weren’t brazen enough with their attentions.


Here’s a shot in the dark: this competitive currency system, whatever the hell it is, was set up by the fraternities.

Please explain to me if you can!!


Aunt Pythia


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Categories: Aunt Pythia
  1. pjm
    April 27, 2013 at 10:16 am

    I listened to the FL interview. Two points (apologies if they sound snarky, they are not meant to be). Small, the relevant issue, aypk, with credit unions is not lack of information but that people are prevented by law from joining them. (Of course, private – as in privately owned – banking could disappear and be replaced with a safer, less wasteful system but hey you know what they say about omelets).

    Big issue, there are people who know how the system works (not necessarily in detail) but literally hundreds of progressive/radical academics or social change professionals (i.e., non-profit or trade union analysts of various sorts) are pretty clear about the wasteful and predatory nature of finance (and the lobbying/policy offensives meant to enable the industry) ..

    E.g., the last time I did any graduate-level social science in the 90’s, part of the required reading was Governing The Economy precisely about the comparative negative effects of having a large financial sector. The “critics” have had a hard time in the post-1980 neo-liberal resurgence in terms of academic careers and being able to influence policy debate, but they have always been there.

    A professor of mine, who is a fairly prominent stats and numerical analysis person, said that he only recently acquired any (broad stroke) awareness of what policy tools were available to dealing with the economic crisis. I was somewhat shocked but it was illustrative about the dangers of over-specialization (even if mathematicians as a group are probably the most politically left of the STEM disciplines). Social critics of various types have the same problem in that they typically are stuck inside the humanities/intellectual discourse bubble. It would be great if these groups could better inform each other.


  2. Leon Kautsky
    April 27, 2013 at 10:35 am

    There was a great book by Meir Statman called “What Investors Really Want”. In one section he discusses that a lot of the “irrationalities” that investors appear to regularly display disappear if you realize that people do not hold financial instruments for their return characteristics alone.

    Anyway, later in the book he shows that pro-environment, somewhat charitable firms tend to have higher returns on equity. However, firms that are anti-union are have higher returns and are typically excluded by “socially responsible investors.” So must pro-social mutual funds, ETFs and holding companies do about the same as the S&P.



  3. April 27, 2013 at 11:24 am

    I’ve held some money in Ariel Mutual Funds for >8 years (partially because they made it hard to withdraw all of it when I wanted to in 2010). When I bought most of my holdings in 2005, they had all of this anti-tech propaganda, and had a lot of holdings in real estate firms :(. It hasn’t performed very well. Ariel’s holdings have pretty high fees, which also sucks.

    Later, I bought some vanguard FTSE social index. But with the exception of Google (bias here, btw), their top 10 holdings don’t really impress me on the socially responsible front, but at least the fees are much lower. There are tons of finance companies in the FTSE.

    Month-end ten largest holdings
    (21.7% of total net assets) as of 03/31/2013
    1 Johnson & Johnson
    2 Procter & Gamble Co.
    3 Google Inc.
    4 Pfizer Inc.
    5 Wells Fargo & Co.
    6 JPMorgan Chase & Co.
    7 Merck & Co. Inc.
    8 Bank of America Corp.
    9 Citigroup Inc.
    10 PepsiCo Inc.


  4. mathematrucker
    April 27, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    I made a point of watching The Retirement Gamble on Frontline when it aired Tuesday. Not surprised to hear it was inspired by your earlier interview with them, in which you spoke out so effectively against the current system that allows profiteers to prey on people’s retirement funds.

    The Retirement Gamble’s heavy promotion of index funds, replete with plenty of commentary from Jack Bogle himself, reminded me a little of NOVA’s “Trillion Dollar Bet” that aired 13 years ago (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/stockmarket/). I saw nothing wrong with that. The whole financial products industry might as well continue to be exposed as the snake oil venture that it mostly is.


  5. April 27, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    Socially responsible mutual funds have been around a long time, starting I think with the PAX World fund in the early 1970s (which still exists today). The ones that I’m familiar with (PAX, TIAA-CREF Social Choice, Vanguard) usually have lists of industries they won’t invest in (tobacco, arms manufacture, sometime alcohol,…), but there’s plenty of unsavory corporations in what’s left. The screens they use make their portfolios lean toward tech companies, pharmaceuticals, financial firms, retail and other services industries as Robert’s example shows.

    My impression is that the first of these funds were not motivated by environmental issues but rather by pacifist principles which is why most of them screen out defense contractors…


  6. Savanarola
    April 27, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    The irony of bothering to so much as keep breathing to impress Sigma Nu was not lost on me. Talk about a lack of self-respect.


    • Leon Kautsky
      April 27, 2013 at 10:43 pm

      Sororities rock.


    • April 29, 2013 at 10:00 pm

      I read the sorority e-mail as a coaches pregame rant. Here’s how I read it:

      She’s getting her players ready to perform at their best. Love – Bobby Knight style. No different than a music director, platoon captain or coach of a sports team. She’s coaching “social skills,” her troops have a game tonight, and she doesn’t think they are quite ready to play – “so far.”

      These girls elected her as leader because she’s helping them develop interpersonal skills that we all need. She’s willing to call them out for bad behavior as she sees it:

      1. No more disrespectful behavior to the guys you’ll be “mixing” with.
      2. Make sacrifices and bind together as a fun-loving group that everyone wants to be with.
      3. Know what team you’re on and cheer for it.
      4. Be able to socialize without alcohol.

      All seem like a reasonable suggestions to me. And they’ll listen to her but not to me. Why? She’s a passionate leader and I’m not – at least in this comment.

      No matter how you read it, she wants her troops to succeed and lays out in no uncertain terms what that means. She cares about them and understands that the reputation of the group depends on how they project themselves externally.

      She is comfortable communicating with them in crude terms because she trusts them and feels it’s the best approach for eliciting what she considers appropriate social behavior. And she’s probably right – her troops will probably respond with their best efforts at the mixer. Better than they would under other leadership.

      When the sorority sisters socialize successfully at the “dry” mixer, they’ll gain respect for themselves, not lose it.

      She trusts them so much that she’s blind to the risks of sending the e-mail.

      Then Judas tosses her under the bus. Instead of rallying around her, the sisters force her out of the sorority. Trust destroying behavior that inspires fear. Judas was willing to sacrifice the group to settle a score with the alpha female. Whatever the score, seems like it should have been handled internally. If you elect a rogue, abusive leader take care of it internally. Airing your dirty laundry rarely helps the group.

      The next time you enjoy a nice concert, watch a team sporting event or read about military actions realize what it takes to get people to work together for a common goal. For many, it means having a coach in your face willing to point out mistakes, develop grueling practice routines and ask for more effort – passionately. It’s hard to lead and motivate. People respond in different ways. Lots respond positively to the “tough love” shown in this e-mail.

      Most folks would love to have a “social skills” coach willing to confront them every time they engage in destructive interpersonal behaviors. Is there any better way to learn and grow? Now I wish I’d had a social skills coach when I was in college. I stayed away from the fraternities and rarely encountered anyone who confronted me about my destructive social behaviors.


      • April 29, 2013 at 10:02 pm

        Wow, what an incredible deconstruction! I’m impressed. But I’m pretty sure I’m glad I wasn’t being told what to do by this bitch when I was in college! 🙂


        • April 30, 2013 at 12:14 am

          There’s only room for one alpha in a group;)


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